Finding solace in the solstice

Dave Haddock is getting in touch with his solar cycle. As artistic director of this year’s Longest Night performance, Haddock will at the same…

Dave Haddock is getting in touch with his solar cycle.

As artistic director of this year’s Longest Night performance, Haddock will at the same moment relish the end of a tough production and the beginning of longer days.

He’s a curious case of a man imitating the cosmos.

“I definitely have that experience (of struggling through the dark winter and looking forward to the sun),” he said.

“At least being involved with this show.”

Getting artists to work together in the middle of winter can be a tough slog, he said.

“It gets really stressful and then we come back to life,” he said.

“Then there’s nothing but more light to come.”

Longest Night will be playing December 20 and 21 at the Yukon Arts Centre. This is its 13th year.

Haddock was involved in the first Longest Night in 1995. He has been a musician, a musical director and an artistic director for the show over the years.

But preparing this year’s show has been a challenge, he said.

“This year we’ve tried to contain the storytelling into one over-arching story for the evening,” he said.

“In the past there have been different stories over the evening as isolated and separate events, which made it into a little bit more of a variety show,” he said.

“We still have a variety of entertainment this year, but I’ve asked people to take in the idea of supporting and helping to tell the story of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.”

And the play itself is a case of art imitating the cosmos.

“It’s a story about a king who becomes very jealous and alienates his family and all the people closest to him. His youngest child ends up being sent off to another land because of his jealous rage,” he said.

King Leontes of Sicily believes one of his closest friends has had an affair with his wife. When she gives birth to a child, Leontes banishes the child to the kingdom of Bohemia.

Sixteen years separate the first and second acts, during which the daughter is raised by a shepherd before she returns home.

“At the end of the story, there’s a reunification,” said Haddock.

“It’s quite magical.”

The play’s apex mirrors the seasonal plunge into darkness and its resurrection into light.

“It’s very tragic at the beginning, it’s very dark and then it brings us back out into the light at the end — it’s sort of a happy ending,” said Haddock.

“When I was thinking about putting together the show, this story seemed really appropriate,” he said.

The parable of going through darkness to find light is an ancient archetype and suitable as a metaphor for wintering in the North, he said.

“When I found The Winter’s Tale, it just seemed to be a specific story that related well to the bigger picture of the season and the solstice and the passage of time that goes through that dark period,” he said.

Haddock and his cast were flexible, making sure the play suited the needs of the show, which brands itself as a mix of storytelling and music.

“You could take years to develop a show based on a Shakespeare play, but we’ve taken excerpts of scenes and we’re actually doing some scenes in an abbreviated form with some musical underscoring and musical transitions,” he said.

Shakespeare enthusiasts will be disappointed to hear that the famous ““exit pursued by a bear” scene was not possible.

“Once the child is taken away from (Leontes’) court, we learn in the storytelling that she escapes a shipwreck and the person who was her caretaker gets chased by a bear,” said Haddock.

But the scene, which would involve having a bear run across the stage, didn’t pan out.

“We couldn’t hire a bear in town,” said Haddock.

That second part of the play begins after a 16-year gap.

It’s set in the kingdom of Bohemia, where the lost child has been reared as a shepherd’s daughter.

“We enter into the story in the middle of a sheep-sheering festival,” said Haddock.

“It’s an agrarian society so they’re all farmers and people of the earth,” he said.

“We’re in Bohemia and this is the part of the play where I thought we could be a little more interpretive,” he said. Music and dance veer off topic, but this offers a breather from the narrative for the audience, he said.

It’s the only part of the play that still has that variety show feel to it, he said.

Getting everyone to follow the main storyline was difficult considering Longest Night prides itself on mixing many performance arts.

“It’s kind of a big collaborative effort,” he said.

“There’s a lot input into how it turns out,” he said. “It’s a learning process every year and it’s a learning process for me on how to shape it.”

“We’re trying to go for a real, strong and coherent story that people can follow through the evening,” he said.

But some art forms have more flexibility in this interpretation of Shakespeare’s work.

“In the dance we asked the dancers to consider a certain part of the story and use that a narrative source to work from to develop their piece,” said Haddock.

And what makes music storytelling an art can be ambiguous.

“If the music isn’t a song that’s actually telling a story lyrically, then you can find a way for the music to support whatever action in the story is happening,” he said.

“Sometimes in the course of the show we need to allow a chance for the music to be played for it’s own sake,” he said. “You look at places in the story where you need a space and time for people to relax.”

Haddock plays bass for the ensemble that will be playing throughout the show. Kim Barlow will be playing guitar and banjo with the show’s founder, Daniel Janke, on piano. Andre Gagne, Graeme Peters, Jake Jenne and Jordy Walker also play in the ensemble.

Mathias Kom from Peterborough will be playing during the sheep shearing festival scene. And the other outsider is Renalta Bourque from Yellowknife who will be directing and performing, said Haddock.

“The rest of the show is local,” he said. “The Done Gone String Band is going to play some old-time music.”

Moira Sauer and Celia McBride from Sour Brides Theatre will be performing, as well as Eric Epstein, Charlie Wilson, Mackenzie Shaw, Jude Wong and Michelle Fisher.

“It’s all the luminaries in the performing arts scene,” said Haddock.

While many of the artists wrote the musical pieces in the play, there are some aspects to Shakespeare’s work that didn’t need any amending to fit into the Longest Night context.

The story begins and ends with Leontes consulting his oracle who communicates with the sun god, Apollo.

“We hear from the oracle in the first half and in the end we see that prophecy of the oracle is fulfilled.”

For a winter solstice play, the match seems preordained.

“It ties up everything at the end in a neat little bow,” said Haddock.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.

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